Monthly Archives: June 2008

In memory of the Rev. Dr Christopher Newell AM

The disability world has lost one of its finest minds and a stalwart friend. Chris Newell was an internationally noted bioethicist and a respected Anglican clergyman and teacher, a disability rights leader and someone unafraid to stand up, as it were, and be counted when it came to the crunch over a range of disability issues.

Although he is gone his work will remain as a tangible reminder of a man who inspired many with his passionate commitment to the human rights of disabled people, and to living life to the full.

But he was also a husband and father and a friend. He had a particular connection with Wellington and disabled people here as he chose to be a member of Wellington DPA, even though he lived in Tasmania.

He was loved and respected by many. I will remember the pleasure of his company, his generosity of spirit and his humour with gratitude. I am proud to call him a friend. He will be missed by many. I do hope that at such a terrible time for Jill and the girls and the rest of his family they can take some comfort from the many loving tributes to him paid in public, and the many more I am sure they will receive in private.

Farewell Chris. Rest in peace.

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Captcha me!

Last week I was desperately trying to open an account with Google Groups so I could participate in a particular project. All went well until I reached the dreaded captcha. Of course I couldn’t work out the word, so I clicked on the little wheelchair icon to find the supposedly accessible version. But no it wasn’t! To keep out the bots it was as aurally munged as the visual word was. I tried a pair of younger ears to see if age was a barrier, but he couldn’t hear it either. But at least he could read it so I could get in.

I therefore deduce that Google Groups only want people who can see and hear really really well, or who don’t mind not having independent access to be a part of the action. Shame on you Google!

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Dyslexia and web accessibility

Last week was Dyslexia week. Shame I couldn’t get this post finished in time for it as there wasn’t much publicity. That is a pity because dyslexia affects a surprising number of people, and it is only now gaining recognition in New Zealand educational circles.

As a web accessibility issue dyslexia has a low profile, although the barriers are recognised and assistive technology is available. However many people in the web community still think that web accessibility is all about blindness and screen readers. Sure blind people face significant and continuing barriers to web site access. But other groups of disabled people do too, and often the barriers are quite different for them than for blind people.

But it is interesting to note that some of the accessibility issues for people with dyslexia are quite similar to those for people with low vision, including me. It seems that quite a lot of the things I hate about web sites are also not enjoyed by people who have dyslexia either.

Many of the problems they, and I, face with web sites revolve around the way information is presented on the screen. Funnily enough the dyslexia week site exhibits the same problems.

I will list just a few.

Unbroken text stretching right across your screen is a pain in the neck. As the eyes try to scan across, it is really difficult to follow on to the next line. If it goes off to the side and you have to scroll across, it makes it even worse! The point of vision gets lost in a morass of text. Text in a relatively narrow column is easier to read.

Right justified text is another pain where the words are spaced out so that both the left and the right sides of each column of text are straight lines. Unjustified text – like the text on this page – leaves a ragged edge down the right hand side.

For a dyslexic reader, justified text, with its uneven spaces between words, creates visual patterns of white space which are hard to ignore. They distract the reader, who loses the place.
Bright text on a white background is another problem for people with dyslexia, (less so for me if the text is strong and black.) Words can appear to move and blur. An off white background may help. Text on a patterned background is really unhelpful and difficult and distracting to read.

Dyslexic readers, like me, find moving images distracting and like the plain uncluttered nature of a type face like arial. We hate italics, and we love print of a decent size.

Like almost everyone else people with dyslexia like plain English – see the new Plain English Power web site.

It just shows that providing good web accessibility does not create barriers for others.

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Filed under Information Accessibility, Web Accessibility

Television, disability and freak shows

Where does the time go? I have slipped up rather badly, with pressure of work etc.

The debate on National Radio NZ’s Media watch programme about whether television NZ should play charter programmes at more popular times has set me thinking about disability in the broadcast media, and disability media.

Attitude, the disability programme funded by NZ On Air screens at 9.30 on Sunday mornings when there is no advertising, and few viewers. If it were to screen at a more popular viewing time I shudder to think about what advertising would accompany it. The mind boggles at the thought of New Age crank cures, rest homes, or maybe the public service road safety ads about intersections with an spoke on the wheel reading disability – fate worse than death!

The only other programmes about disability on the box are usually “disease of the month” or thinly disguised freak shows. Even Shortland Street which in the past has starred Philip Patston as a hetero character who happened to be disabled, has blotted its copybook by featuring a mad bad and dangerous mentally ill man as a plot device, and we haven’t seen the resident bloke with Tourette syndrome, can’t remember his name, for a while.

Well now you know I watch Shortland Street! Seriously though, I have pretty much given up on the mainstream media to begin to cover our issues in any meaningful way on a regular basis. Even National Radio’s One in Five doesn’t hit the spot for me these days. It seems to be on an entirely different tack.

Nothing About Us without Us is pretty much lost on the mainstream media. I’m not sure that having so called “minority” NZ On Air funded programmes in more commercial time slots would make any difference. In fact it could be a backwards step with TV MZ possibly attempting to influence content. Keep reading the blogs I say!

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Filed under Disability Issues, Media